How Does a Dead-Last French Cable Channel Nab a Sit-Down With Obama?

On the eve of his whirlwind trip to the Middle East and Europe, President Barack Obama gave exclusive interviews to two European television broadcasters: Britain's BBC and France's iTELE.

The choice of the BBC is self-explanatory. But iTELE? Why not France Télévisions, the publicly funded French equivalent of the BBC? Or the privately owned TF1, France's longtime market leader in prime-time news broadcasting?

iTELE is a relatively small cable news channel in a country where the traditional network giants continue to dominate. Even between the two cable news channels that are readily available, iTELE's ratings trail well behind those of its younger rival BFM. According to the latest ratings for the télévision numérique terrestre (TNT), iTELE enjoys a whopping 0.8% audience-share. That's dead last among the seventeen channels comprising the TNT. (Reception of the TNT, which includes the traditional networks plus a handful of additional channels, requires special equipment but no special cable or satellite subscription.)

So why iTELE?

Perhaps it has something to do with the interviewer, iTELE's White House correspondent Laurence Haïm (that's Laurence Haïm, not Laura Haïm, as Jeff Zeleny of the ever linguistically challenged New York Times calls her). For if French journalists in general have abandoned any pretense to objectivity while reporting on American politics in recent years -- as has been extensively documented on blogs like No Pasarán or my Transatlantic Intelligencer -- Laurence Haïm's preferences are even more transparent than most.

Until nabbing her interview with President Obama this week, Ms. Haïm's greatest claim to fame was to have burst into tears while announcing the re-election of his predecessor, George W. Bush, in 2004.

"You can, I think, see the fanaticism of these people here," Haïm says, referring to the merrily celebrating Bush supporters behind her. "You see the screen, you see the Fox News channel, you see the American flag, you see these people. George W. Bush is going, then, to become president again for four years." And then, after remarking on her mounting emotions, she repeats the phrase punctuated by convulsive sobs.

"George W. Bush ... is going to become president again ... for four years."